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    Let’s perfect… the French Imperfect Tense!

    You could have added a bouquet of grammar skills to your French knowledge chest or maybe this could be the first article you’ve clicked on. However, the case may be, it’s time to indulge with another concept that will get you closer to be a native speaker – “L’Imparfait” or the French Imperfect tense. 

    Let’s perfect… the French Imperfect Tense!
    By Sami
    3 weeks ago

    French Grammar French Lessons

    Let’s perfect… the French Imperfect Tense!

As daunting as another lesson may sound, this tense is widely used in conversations of the past. We have a habit of recounting old events with our current companions and nothing would be more suitable than talking in imperfect tense. To ease you in, here is guide that will aid you in every step of your ‘Imperfect’ journey.

How Does French Imparfait Compare with English Imperfect?

As such there is no correlation between the two concepts. We can claim though that past progressive within English grammar is a good parallel with French imperfect. They both use – was, would and used to. These are employed to discuss events that have happened and aren’t continuing.

The formula for conjugation is to take the ‘Nous’ form of the verb you’re using, drop the end ‘ons’ and add the imperfect suffix (check the table below).

Imperfect Tense Conjugation Table

PronounConjugation EndFinir’ Example
( Nous finissons)
Je/j’aisfinissais
Tuaisfinissais
Il/Elle/Onaitfinissait
Nousionsfinissions
Vousiezfinissiez
Ills/Ellesaientfinissaient

A few things to keep in mind are that:

  • Verbs ending with -cer have the ‘c’ take accent cedille, becoming ‘ç’ only if it’s prior to the vowel ‘a’.
    For example: In the verb effaçer, the conjugation will be like – Il effaçait.
  • Verbs ending with -ger adopt an ‘e’ after the ‘g’ For example: In the verb arranger, the conjugation will be like – Il arrangeait.

* In both the cases, ‘Nous’ and ‘Vous’ conjugations mostly don’t get affected by the rules.

French is known for having exceptions and Imperfect tense is not behind in that case either. The verb être does not follow the same conjugation endings in the exact manner. Let’s see how it is conjugated.

Être Imperfect Tense Conjugation Table
PronounConjugation Ending
Je/j’étais
Tuétais
Il/Elle/Onétait
Nousétions
Vousétiez
Ils/Ellesétaient

The basic of Imperfect Tense

You might be aware that there is another branch of past tense namely passé compose. So, when do we use Imperfect tense?

1. When we are talking about occurrences which don’t have a concrete narrative or a start/end

Example:
Je montais l’échelle
(I was climbing the ladder)

2. At times, imperfect tense in French works in harmony with passé compose to start a scene before the action changes.

Example:
Elle regardait la television quand sa grand-mère a appelé
(She was watching TV when the door bell rang)

*Here you can observe that ‘regardait’ is imperfect tense that starts a scene before ‘appelé’ which is passé compose where a second event has started.

3. Even the events which have happened on a routine can be covered.

Example:
Chaque jour je faisais du yoga
(Every day I would do yoga)

Satisfy Your Perfectionist Side And Avoid These

Since there is a thin line between passé compose and imperfect tense in French, it is quite easy to misplace the two. When you are a beginner, it can be difficult to realize when to use which one. You could end up with a long lecture from a native if you let that mistake happen.

So, what can you really do to avoid? You must be exhausted from hearing practise, but the golden trick is just that. No one can become an Olympic gold medallist say in weightlifting without putting in efforts of doing the same thing every single day. Luckily for you, there are so many components in a language that can be practised so you don’t get bored with the same routine.

Another way of staying away from mistakes is to go through the list of certain words which are indications of imperfect tense. For example, tous les jours (every day) mostly has imperfect conjugation. Write all such phrases and words on a paper and stick it somewhere you’ll see everyday like your mirror. Now, you can groom yourself both physically and mentally at the same time!

Hopefully, imperfect tense will run through your blood stream soon enough such that you become a master weaver of past tales. See you next lesson!

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